Tips to make your beach walk not only fun, but food-focused as well

Summer’s here and it’s time to get ready for a fun-filled beach excursion, so let’s take a look at some important tips to help you get started on a beach scavenger hunt.

Tides: To begin you must find out the low tide time on the day you plan to go to the beach. Usually I make a call to my local tourist information centre, as they keep a record of the tide table in my area. It is pointless to head to the beach for a beachcombing activity when the tide is full, but when the tide is out, or in other words, ebb tide, it is a very exciting place to explore.

Tools to use: True beachcombers only need a pail for the collection of sea creatures they wish to savour over a delectable meal. Shovels are great for building sand castles, but for our beach walk we will simply bring a bucket and use our hands and feet to experience our exploration and study of the shoreline.

Signs of beach life: The tide is low, pail in hand, you’re wearing shorts and are walking in bare feet. You are alert to any signs on the sand bars and gullies that stretch out before you. Each particular beach has its own creatures: clams, razor clams, mussels, crabs, seaweed, hermit crabs, moon snails, starfish, sand dollars, jellyfish, sand shrimps, chubs, periwinkles, and barnacles are all found on our shores. Some sea creatures such as clams, crabs, razor clams, and moon snails get caught when the tide recedes and end up burying themselves on a sand bar which protects them from predators such as seagulls and other birds. Other sea creatures such as sand shrimps, chubs, starfish, and hermit crabs make their way to gullies or tidal pools to protect themselves.

Barnacles and mussels have very hard shells and are usually found at jagged points of land surrounding either side of a crescent-shaped beach. Many kinds of seaweed can be found there as well. If you are lucky, you may find a starfish hiding under some seaweed on the jagged rocks or attached to a rock in a gully covered in seaweed. Jellyfish often get stranded on the tidal flats and dry out in the sun. Be cautious around any live jellyfish as their tentacles can pack a nasty and painful sting.

As you walk along the beach, you notice some holes in the wet sand. Usually these holes are made by razor clams. They are very hard to catch as they dig with their foot (it looks like a long tongue). It is a challenge to push against their shell while manoeuvring the side of the shell with your thumb so you can get a grip on it. Apply steady pressure similar to a tug-of-war with the razor clam and you will win. Razor clams are the hardest ones to catch in one piece without detaching them from their foot.

Bar clams and moon snails are easier to find and they both have distinguishable marks in the sand bar. A moon snail slides and glides along with its foot (different from razor clams), covering its spiral shell with the wet sand as the tide goes out. Moon snails, unlike razor clams, move very slowly. When trying to distinguish a snail covered in sand from a clam covered in sand, the clam has a siphon which is partially in view and its shell leaves a crack in the sand.

Sand shrimp and chubs that look like freshwater minnows are found in tide pools. The sand shrimp tickle your feet when you wade into the gully. It’s easy to catch them between your toes. The chubs swim in schools in the tide pools and the best way to catch them is to jump into the middle of a school with V-shaped feet and lift your arches so a fish can find refuge there. Bend down, cup the fish with both hands and put them into a bucket with sea water. This skill takes practice, but it’s fun to to try.

In the end, the only sea creatures worth keeping for food are the clams. The rest of the sea creatures you’ve collected should be put back into a tide pool for predator protection. The daily limit for clams is 100 in PEI and you can dig for bar clams, bay quahogs, soft-shell clams, and razor clams. Do be aware to look for any signage that indicates shellfish are not to be harvested due to biotoxins, as there are periodic warnings in some areas.

To prepare your feast of clams, collect a bucket of sea water with your delectable shellfish and add cornmeal to it. The siphons on the clams inhale the cornmeal-flavoured salt water and spew out sand from their systems.

Leave the clams for a day to allow the sand to come out of the clams. Then change the water by collecting a fresh pail of sea water and cook the clams in a large pot until their shells open. Serve with melted butter and a bit of lemon juice and enjoy!